Meet the U.S. Regional Champs: NE Barista—J. Park Brannen

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In the days leading up to the United States Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewer’s Cup, we at Barista Magazine are proud to share with you exclusive interviews with the six regional champions in each competition. We will feature the Southwestern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the Northwestern Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Southeast Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Northeastern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the South Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; and the North Central Regional Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions on Tuesday. And stay tuned right here on Barista Magazine’s blog all next week for more of our preview coverage of all the exciting events and parties happening in Seattle in conjunction with the SCAA, and reports and photos of all the action every day through the end of this epic week in coffee.

J. Park Brannen
Customer Relations Representative
Counter Culture Coffee
New York City

What was your first barista gig?

I started as a barista in 2006 at Jittery Joes Coffee in Athens, Georgia.

Park has great respect for all of his fellow competitors, including Mr. Charles Babinski, the SW Regional Barista Champ. Rather than focusing on competing against Chalres this weekend at the USBC. Charles is thinking about how fun it will be to hit the dance floor with him when the two join Cafe Imports and the other regional barista champions in Ecuador this summer.

Park has great respect for all of his fellow competitors, including Mr. Charles Babinski, the SW Regional Barista Champ. Rather than focusing on competing against Chalres this weekend at the USBC. Charles is thinking about how fun it will be to hit the dance floor with him when the two join Cafe Imports and the other regional barista champions in Ecuador this summer.

What was your first real “a-ha!” moment with coffee?

I did a training with Rob Tuttle in Atlanta that was my first real coffee experience. I had been a barista for three years and thought I knew a decent amount about coffee, and he really squashed that notion. In the process of preparing to move to New York to open a shop for Jittery Joes, we hired Rob as a consultant on the project, and in one training, he took me from being someone who works at a coffee shop to being a coffee person.

Park is an experienced barista competitor. Not only has he competed a few times, but he's been a competition judge, which gives a barista a lot of insight about what happens on the other side of the table.

Park is an experienced barista competitor. Not only has he competed a few times, but he’s been a competition judge, which gives a barista a lot of insight about what happens on the other side of the table.

Barista competition history?

I competed in the 2011 Northeast Regional Barista competition. I competed again in 2012 and judged in 2013.

Park with Mary Alyse Hall.

Park with Mary Alyse Hall.

New York has one of the most vibrant and exciting coffee cultures in the country right now. Why is that?

The coffee scene in New York is really interesting because we have so much. I don’t know of any other city that can claim as many quality focused coffee bars as we can. If it mattered, I would venture to say that we’re the specialty coffee capital of the country now, but I’m sure someone would yell at me on Twitter for saying that. I’m most proud of New York’s market moving into new areas like midtown and the financial district, which are flush with people who love the product and allow businesses to do the kind of volume that can make retail coffee financially viable. It’s fun to watch coffee bars do the kind of numbers a restaurant typically does.

Park and his Counter Culture posse.

Park and his Counter Culture posse.

How did you prepare for the regional, and how will you get ready for the USBC?

To train for the regional, I broke down the questions I had about what I wanted to do and simply put the time into answering them. What coffee did I want to serve, what style of service, what kind of presentation, etc. There is no substitute for hard work and I spent many hours behind a machine figuring out exactly what it was that I was doing, with a lot of purpose. For USBC, I’ll be working more with my coach, Katie Carguilo, on fine tuning the things that needed improvement from regionals.

In case you didn't know, Park is a rabid Georgia Bulldogs fan.

In case you didn’t know, Park is a rabid Georgia Bulldogs fan.

Can you tell us about the coffee you used at regionals?

I used a special prep naturally processed coffee from Burundi from the Buziraguhindwa station. It was a product of a couple of years of experimenting with different techniques in a project between Tim Hill, the head of our coffee department, and Ramadan Salam, one of the owners of Buziraguhindwa. It tastes kind of crazy in that it is sweet and fruited like a natural but with less fermenty-ness (not a word, but it’s my word). The coffee exists and tastes great because of the way Counter Culture does business, which is to say that we inspire trust between our buyers and the producers that we work with, and I couldn’t think of a better coffee to share with the specialty community. I love the company I work for and I think the model we operate on is important, so I felt like this coffee was proof positive that great relationships breed great coffee.

Park may be a serious competitor and a well respected member of the coffee community, but he's a ball-o-laughs, I tell ya.

Park may be a serious competitor and a well respected member of the coffee community, but he’s a ball-o-laughs, I tell ya.

Finish this sentence: I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without…

Amber Sather is the first person that comes to mind because she was the person that really took me under her wing and helped me to grow. Amber is super driven and has always stayed true to her vision, and I’ve found her example to be very helpful. My coworker Katie Carguilo is another example of commitment and dedication to the trade that I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone with as much passion for coffee as Katie has, and seeing her work is what pushed me to the level I needed to be at to win the Northeast. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of strong female influences in the industry with these two being at the top of the mountain.

Park's J. Crew ad.

Park’s J. Crew ad.

What’s something most folks don’t know about you?

The jokes around the Counter Culture New York office are usually centered around my extreme nutrition strategy for an unlikely bodybuilding habit I picked up. I’m what people call a hard gainer, but recently my metabolism has slowed to allow me to gain weight, and I’m freakishly obsessed. I’ve got two speeds, on and off, and I’m currently immersing myself in the very strange world of iron and fake tans.

You won a trip to Ecuador from Café Imports for winning your regional! How stoked are you?

I couldn’t be more excited for the trip that Cafe Imports has put together for us, they really do amazing stuff for the industry. I’ve never been to origin, so this has an extra layer of awesome for me. I’m lucky enough to be friends with the majority of the people on the trip and I can’t wait to hit the dance floor with Charles and Camila, both notorious for their moves.

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.